Robert J. Piersol

1890 to 1969
Applied Physics

Robert J. PiersolRobert J. Piersol, born January 28, 1890, in Marion, Kansas, grew up primarily in the small town of California in southeastern Pennsylvania. He attended California Normal High School, graduating in 1908. He received an A.B. degree from Allegheny College in 1912, an A.M. degree from Tulane University in 1913, and a Ph.D. from University of California in 1916. He majored in physics with a minor in physical chemistry.

Piersol served as a research physicist at the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh from 1916 to 1917 and was awarded a patent on an oil flotation process. He then switched to a position as process physicist for a copper mining company in California during 1917 to 1919 and for Standard Chemical in Pittsburgh, 1919 to 1921 where he was awarded another patent on radium ore concentration. Before joining the Illinois State Geological Survey, Piersol became a professor of physics at the University of Pittsburgh, 1921 to 1923, then worked as a research physicist for Westinghouse Research Laboratories 1923 to 1927, and next undertook consulting research. In 1931, he served as the secretary-treasurer of the Pittsburgh Physical Society. Also in 1931, he received first ranking on the civil service exam for a position with the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Piersol accepted a position as physicist with the Illinois State Geological Survey instead, and he held that position until 1946 when he retired.

As a research physicist at the Survey, Piersol added a new dimension to the multidisciplinary research program on the utilization of Illinois minerals developed by M. M. Leighton, the Survey's third chief, in consultations with the captains of industry,1930 to 1931. Piersol worked on smokeless fuels, developing processes for briquetting Illinois coal with more efficient burning characteristics. This research led to a number of papers in the 1930s and 1940s that discussed his findings for producing smokeless briquettes. His final paper on briquetting Illinois coals without a binder appeared in 1948 during his retirement.

Piersol married Irene DeMatti in Greenville, California, on September 1, 1918. The couple had two sons, Robert and Allan, and two daughters, Diana and Grace. Robert G. Piersol died March 5, 1969, at his home in Champaign, Illinois.

Honored by: 
Dynamic Separation Inc
Citation Contributed by: 
Morris W. Leighton